How does financial aid work for college?

Understanding how financial aid works for college can be tricky. There are a lot of factors that come into play when you are deciding how to pay for your college education. We have broken down some of the most common ways to receive financial aid for college.

How do I receive financial aid?

Most colleges and universities will view financial aid as multiple parts. The first part is merit aid, and that is based on your high school GPA and test score – whether that’s the ACT or SAT. Based on the combination of those two items, universities will grant you scholarships. This means, the higher your test score and GPA, the more merit aid you will receive. Be aware that some merit scholarships could have additional components before they are awarded such as an interview, essay, audition or submitting a portfolio of your previous work.

The second part is when your family fills out the FASFA. Even if you don’t feel that it is worth your time it is still important for you to submit. There is a possibility that you could be giving away “free money” if you decide to skip this part. There is no other way to determine how much aid you could receive.

Third, you could receive financial aid through loans, which must be repaid, or need-based grants. Filing the FAFSA is required to be considered for these types of aid. It is a good idea to file early in order to not miss important deadlines.

It is important for you to keep in mind the terms and conditions of each loan/scholarship that you are granted.

Where can I get financial aid from?

Aside from the institutions listed above, financial aid can also come from private organizations. Churches, Kiwanis, Rotary, service clubs and other private foundations can award various scholarships and grants. It is important to look for these private scholarship opportunities specific to your hometown – this is money that you do not need to pay back.

When applying for this type of aid it is essential you know all of the requirements, including deadlines, so you can continue to receive the scholarships year after year.

Are there different types of financial aid for college?

Merit aid scholarships, which are based on your scores, come directly from the college that you attend. These do not need to be paid back.

FASFA will determine your family’s need for financial assistance. Federal grants, Pell Grants and other state grants also do not typically need to be paid back.

Private loans, federal loans and Parent PLUS loans (anything called a loan) will need to be repaid over time.

Does the amount of aid I receive depend on my grades?

Yes, the higher your grades the more scholarships you could receive.

Many colleges and universities will also have “talent awards.” Talent awards are unique to your major or interests, such as art or music and often require you to either apply or audition. If you are awarded this type of aid, it will be added onto the merit scholarships you receive.

If my grades are below average can I still receive financial aid?

Yes! Financial aid includes merit aid, which means that many colleges and universities will give you some level of aid based on your academic achievements.

On top of merit aid, you will still be eligible to receive federal and state aid, as well as private and federal loans.

Will financial aid be able to cover my entire tuition, as well as other costs?

Possibly, but the only way to find out is to apply to the college(s) you are interested in attending and filing the FAFSA. Some colleges might have additional forms for you to complete as well to determine if you are eligible for their need-based grant program. You will not be granted financial aid that exceeds your total cost of education.

Will I have to pay financial aid back? If so, when?

Merit aid, scholarships and grants do not need paid back. However, loans of any type will need paid back. If you are receiving aid from private institutions there could be strings attached requiring you to pay them back depending on your GPA or if you drop out of college.

How do I pay for college?

Most colleges and universities will offer you a payment plan after you apply all of your financial aid and finish setting up your loans. Plans typically require monthly payments or payment in full at the beginning of each semester or quarter. Of course, you can pay for your tuition upfront. Some colleges might offer you a discount for paying in full if you ask ahead of time.

Typically, you must pay your bill by the end of each school year to continue attending college the following year.


For more information, explore the Bluffton University financial aid website

The Bluffton University financial aid staff is committed to answering your questions and connecting you with the resources available to meet your goals. Feel free to ask us general questions about financial aid. Topics may include federal and state issues, the financial aid application process, grant and loan issues and any other questions you may have.

You do not have to be a current or potential Bluffton University student to use this service. Our advice is available to everyone!